Chief of staff for powerful Chicago alderman makes lobbying dough on the side

Chicago Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward, is one of Chicago’s most influential City Council members. His territory includes the city’s commercial center: River North and the Loop.

As is the case throughout Chicago, local aldermen have tremendous sway over what gets built, how and when – perhaps none more so than Reilly.

It’s concerning then that his chief of staff, Madeline Hill, is making money by lobbying city government on behalf of property developers.

Hill or her consulting group has received $247,000 in payments from Citizens for Alderman Reilly since 2009, according to The Daily Line. That includes more than $95,000 in 2016.

But at the same time she was taking campaign cash to work for Reilly, Hill was getting paid to represent two major real estate companies – Wirtz Realty and M. Fishman & Company – in matters before City Council.

Hill’s excuse? It’s not prohibited.

“It’s unique, but not wrong,” Hill told The Daily Line.

Hill said she maintains a clear distinction between her work for the alderman’s office and her work for clients of her consulting firm when interacting with city officials: “What I always do, whenever I talk to them is make clear what I’m talking to them about. If it’s for an outside client, I’ll say it’s for a non-42nd Ward matter, I’ll say this is for X client. I’m always clear about what matter I’m on ... I don’t mix conversation and I make sure keep things tidy.”

Ethics rules bar aldermanic staff from influencing decisions from which they have derived compensation in the past year. But an ethics loophole allows Hill and others to work for City Council members and lobby for clients at the same time.

Hill isn’t an aldermanic staffer paid with city money. She’s technically a contractor, paid by Reilly’s political fundraising committee, Citizens for Alderman Reilly.

But as Reilly’s chief of staff, Hill arguably has “contract management authority,” which means she is involved with the formulation or execution of city contracts. As government watchdog group ProjectSix points out in a new report, city employees with contract management authority are barred from serving on political fundraising committees.

That Reilly tolerates his staffer’s apparent conflict of interest – and possible ethics violation – isn’t surprising. Selling the perception of political sway is nothing new in Reilly’s universe.

Reilly’s former boss, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, makes millions of dollars appealing the property tax bills of corporate clients in Chicago. Madigan’s firm’s largest clients are located in Reilly’s ward.

Playing fast and loose with ethics rules is the norm in Chicago – the nation’s corruption capital.

And in fitting fashion, 40 Chicago aldermen blew off the city’s annual Ethics Board hearing Oct. 27.

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